Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Manger à Montmartre: Moulin de la Galette & Chartier

So, a honeymoon in Paris: two people deeply in love, add the most romantic city in the world and what could possibly go wrong? Well, if you're lost in Monmartre on a Saturday, scaling steep stairs along with every other tourist in the city, and it's been a long time since breakfast some of the romance quickly rubs off. Luckily the Ewing had lots of patience, and a map. And despite it being for her that we were enduring the torture of street artists and chancers trying to sell us keyrings of the Eiffel Tower, she quickly located a couple of restaurants in the guidebook that were close by.

The one we both fancied was back down the hill, a prospect neither of us was particularly relishing, but she assured me the second choice would be just as good. When we rounded the corner to be greeted by a building with a wooden windmill sticking out the top and a tour party taking pictures outside, my heart sank. I suddenly had visions of some awful 'cabaret' themed tourist trap, full of dancers with big dresses, and big prices to match. I briefly considered one of the take away hot dogs being scoffed by tour parties all around us, but the Ewing's patience wasn't going to last so we decided to give it a punt.

Luckily it was all very civilised and quite normal inside. A bright and modern dining room full of groups en famile and a smattering of tourists enjoying some fortification before braving the crowds at the top of Monmartre. Despite being the site of one of the only remaining windmills in Monmartre the only commerical nod to its history are the water glasses, that can be bought as a set to take home.

Looking to grab a quick bite we chose the good value menu, skipping a starter and both choosing the confit duck as a main. Being rather too easily persuaded (and this before we had made any inroads to our carafe of wine) decided we'd better keep our sugar levels up by ordering the lemon tart with blackberry sorbet to finish.

The duck confit; a wonderfully crisp-skinned and juicy leg served with a ragout of impossibly cute as a button baby mushrooms and bacon; slices of sweet root veg, including carrot and turnip and candy-coloured beetroot; and a stunning Dauphinois potato, imbued with a sweet garlic flavour that haunts me still (luckily not literally, or I don't think our marriage would have lasted much past the honeymoon...). All finally topped off with an impossibly decadent fois gras cream sauce that lulled me into a gentle canard coma.

I was impressed with the simplicity and care taken in cooking all the different elements of the dish so perfectly. This was a dish of rich and strongly flavoured ingredients, but a deft touch in the kitchen meant and all the individual elements shone through while still marrying into a delicious whole.

Desert was a lemon meringue tart with a blackcurrant sorbet and coulis. Wow. It may not be an exaggeration to say that this was one of, if not the best, thing I ate on our trip. The tart au citron was wonderfully lip-puckering, with a perfectly crisp, buttery pastry base, while the meringue topping was like eating the lightest, smoothest sugar cloud.

I'll confess now; I'm not normally a huge fan of meringue (even, whisper it, the Ewing's legendary pavlova). While I appreciate that, when made well, it can have a gooey marshmallow centre and a wonderful, sweet chewiness, all too often it is chalky and brittle, or worse, resembles lumpy, watery shaving foam. God only knows how they had made this so etherally light, smooth and moreish, but I was utterly and completely in love. Ok the sorbet may have been a little grainy, and the unseasonal fruit an irrelevance to eat around, but the tart was utterly masterful. A proper pudding well worth forgoing the funiculaire for.

After the delights of our lunch we felt rejuvenated enough to face the crowds for an afternoon at the Sacré-Cœur. But the call of dinner's never too far away, and after our sightseeing I persuaded the Ewing to walk through the 9e to Restaurant Bullion Chartier. Chartier first open its doors in 1896, and this Parisian fin-de-siècle gem is now monument to cheap classics, served by waiters in traditional white shirts and black waistcoats.

They don't take reservations, and so arriving early or off hours is your best bet, especially at the weekend. This approach can also have its down side, as witnessed by our waiter showing us to our table, and then promptly disappearing to mop the bathroom floor for the next twenty minutes. Early hiccups aside we soon got stuck in to a bottle of red and soaked up the atmosphere, elbow to elbow with our new tablemates (unless you're in a large group expect to share).

The Ewing chose the risiulously priced celriac remoulade (€2.50), a delightful tangle of shredded veg mixed with a mayonaise dressing perfectly balanced between creamy and tart. It may not be much of a looker, but this was a perfect appetite whetter for the rich food ahead.

While my frisee aux lardons may look a little uninspiring, the bowl it was served in must have contained half a pound of crispy bacon, bolstered by the most magnificent, crispy baguette croutons. The whole thing was pepped up with the sort of simple mustard vinaigrette that the French are so good at.

My Pavé de coeur , a cut so beloved of French bistros. Essentially the heart of the rump steak, this is a nice, chunky bit of meat with the good ratio of softness to chew. Cooked nicely rare, well seasoned and served with a creamy peppercorn sauce and frites, for me there's not much that would improve upon such classic simplicity. The fact that every other person there seemed to be eating the same thing shows I'm not alone.

The Ewing originally picked the bavette with a shallot sauce and frites, but as they had just run out, the waiter suggested substituting the entrecôte. A much thinner cut, it was also served nicely saignant, with the sauce giving a little punch to cut through the richness of the meat and fried potatoes.

Despite the gluttony displayed over the last 24 hours there was no way I was leaving without pudding. The Ewing gamely ploughed through the Mont Blanc, a rich dish of sweetened vanilla and chestnut puree, topped with a billowing mountain of cream, while I plumped for the baba au rhum.

Thankfully they've banned smoking indoors, as a naked flame anywhere in the vicinity of this would have resulted in a catastrophic fireball, unseen since Michael Jackson's ill fated Pepsi commercial. A rich, yeasted cake doused in a hugely alcoholic rum and sugar syrup and served with yet more pillows of fresh cream, needless to say it was fabulous.

The bill is still chalked up on the paper table cloth before you leave. An old fashioned touch, with old fahioned prices to match. While it may not be haute cuisine, Chartier is a solid place for a simple dinner, and judging by the huge crowds forming outside as we left, still just as popular for those looking to save a few pennies or seeking a piece of the old Paris.

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